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Diplomacy for Development: Prime Minister Narendra Modi to meet all 930 Indian envoys

New Delhi, Iftikhar Gilani(dna): Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to meet all Indian envoys, spread in 120 missions and 49 consulates across the world, here on Saturday.

This is the first such exercise since 2012, and its theme is Diplomacy for Development. Modi will also interact with the envoys individually to gauge the diplomatic mood across the globe.

The mood in the diplomatic corps, however, is not very cheerful – for two reasons: one, India has a smaller number of professional diplomats, and, two, 15 missions are without chiefs for over seven months now.

Saudi Arabia is one example. The country has just seen a change in leadership, and India has an ambassador who has reached superannuation and is on an extension.

How many diplomats India have?

India has 930 professional diplomats to look after her interests world-wide. This does not match with the country’s rising power status. Look at China and the US. While China has 4,000 diplomats, the US has 20,000 stationed across the globe.

Which are the missions that without chiefs?

At least 15 crucial missions in countries like Canada, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Norway. Thirty ambassadors are completing their tenures in a month or two and there is no move to find replacements. These include stations like Bangladesh, South Korea and Bahrain.

What about Syria?

Syria is the most curious case. It is without a chief at a time when the country has become the hotbed of global diplomacy in the wake of the rise of IS. The IS has even held many Indians hostages. Still, no ambassador has been appointed to Damascus.

Why are appointments getting delayed?

Appointment of ambassadors got stalled due to the uneasy relationship between former foreign secretary Sujata Singh and the Prime Minister’s Office. Sources say Singh had sent a list to her boss, external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, almost three months ago. But Swaraj, apprehending Modi may ask for the rationale behind every appointment, returned the list.

How are appointments made?

Singh, during her tenure, is reported to have introduced an automatic system of tracking vacancies and seniority lists. She also circulated them to all external affairs ministry officials, inviting aspirants to put in their claims and justifications. The Foreign Service Board, comprising the Prime Minister, external affairs minister and the foreign and commerce secretaries, also has not met since Modi assumed office.

How is the govt viewing the meeting?

External affairs ministry spokesperson Syed Akbarudin said that, unlike in the past, the principal theme of the conference is Diplomacy for Development. “It is different from previous conferences because the focus is on what diplomacy can do for India. Usually, our focus is on how international issues are shaping up, how they impact India, and what India can do internationally. The focus this time is what diplomacy can bring to bear on India’s development,” he said.

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